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Youth America Grand Prix Gala 2019 at Koch Theater

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Youth America Grand Prix Gala 2019
20th Anniversary Season

Stars of Today Meet the Stars of Tomorrow

At the
David H. Koch Theater
Lincoln Center

Larissa Saveliev: Artistic Director and Founder
Gennadi Saveliev: President and Founder

Featuring Renowned Guest Artists
Winners of YAGP International Student Ballet
Scholarship Competition for Students

Press: Jonathan Marder and Company, Inc.

Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower
April 19, 2019

See 2019 YAGP NYC Finals Winners List Here.

This thrilling annual event brings out many of the top winners of the Youth America Grand Prix (YAGP), as well as dance performance virtuosos, often called Prima Ballerinas and Premier Danseurs. In Part I, “Stars of Tomorrow”, winners and participants of Wednesday night’s Final Rounds were astounding. The audience, including many young dancers from around the globe, who participated in the 2019 YAGP competition, was, as always, fervently vocal and energized…to say the least. Whoops, screams, whistling, and loud applause made this event especially thrilling, for all who watched and all who danced. A young pianist, Micah McLaurin, performed a virtuosic solo to begin the evening’s celebration. In Part II, “Stars of Today”, ten eloquent solo, duo and ensemble performances, presented by members of renowned ballet companies, like New York City Ballet, American Ballet Theatre, Mariinsky Ballet, Houston Ballet, and Bolshoi Ballet, entertained the packed Koch Theater audience. The YAGP Gala is always a high point of the New York spring ballet season.

Presenting the “Grand Defilé” first, choreographed, as always, by Carlos Dos Santos, Jr., with “over 300 participants from 40 countries and throughout the United States” (Program Notes), was a brilliant decision, as so many young dancers then had the rest of the night to relax, watch the program, and dress down. Each of the hundreds of “select finalists”, in similar leotards and tutus, enters the stage by gender and age group, or solos, or en masse in the finale, but highly precise in timing and logistics. It is always amazing that Mr. Dos Santos is able to fit the entire group in exceptional musical figures and motion, to a chosen score, this year by Tchaikovsky, in virtuosic displays of ebullient energy, with poise and confidence. I would love to see a narrative documentary about the making of these “Grand Defilés”, with clips of all of them, in historical order. A balletomane’s dream.

The “Stars of Tomorrow” segment (the program ran close to three hours, no intermission) featured several YAGP NY Finals winners, who had been announced yesterday, and it was especially thrilling to see some of Wednesday night’s student highlights again. Tonight, we saw Carson Willey, 12, of ID, in “Harlequinade”, Madison Brown, 13, of FL, in “Talisman”, Harold Mendez, 17, of Cuba, who again brought down the house, in “Diana and Acteon”, the Unison Dance Academy of Israel in Excerpts from “Decadance”, João Vitor Percilio Da Silva, 15, of Brazil, in “Sinergia”, Abra Geiger, 14, of NY, in “Revealed”, Matthis Leavens, just 10, of Belgium, in “Graduation Ball”, The K Ballet of Korea in “Janggu Festival”, Darrion Sellman, 14, of CA, in “Swan Lake”, Madison Penney, 14, (who was featured on two of my 2017 YAGP reviews, at 12 years old), USA, with Antonio Casalinho, 15, of Portugal, in “Grand Pas Classique”, and Gabriel Figueredo, 18, of Germany, in “Chroma”. Some of the dances chosen by tonight’s “future stars” were much more contemporary than those they had previously performed in the finals, and this choreographic contrast showcased their expansive talent.

The “Stars of Today” segment, that began after a pause and enormous vocal accolades and standing ovations for all the student performers, was, on its own, a unique gala tour de force. In fact, many of tonight’s “Stars” are YAGP alumni. First onstage, at the audience’s “hold-your-breath” moment, was Melanie Hamrick’s (a corps member of American Ballet Theatre and a YAGP alumna) world premiere of “Porte Rouge”. Performing were Christine Shevchenko, Skylar Brandt, Herman Cornejo, Thomas Forster, Sung Woo Han, and Calvin Royal III, all dancers with ABT and many of whom are YAGP alumni. Daniel Ulbricht of New York City Ballet was in this ensemble. The audience was waiting for a glimpse of the ballet’s music composer (with The Rolling Stones) and orchestrator, Mick Jagger, but Mr. Jagger remained backstage, although he spoke by microphone to all of us. This ballet was actually impressive with quite a pulse, and with Mr. Cornejo and Mr. Ulbricht onstage, one can imagine the extraordinary elevation, leaps, and spins. The audience went wild. The ABT dancers exuded such magnetic fervor and spellbinding athleticism.

Next were two New York favorites, Indiana Woodward and Taylor Stanley, of New York City Ballet, in Balanchine’s ever so rambunctious “Tarantella Pas de Deux”, to Gottschalk’s music. With tambourines and colorful costumes, they flirted and leaped and danced in lifts and fervor. Juliano Nunes’ “Nothing Left”, a world premiere, introduced Derek Dunn of Boston Ballet and Mr. Nunes of Royal Ballet of Flanders, with music by Karen LeFrak. This vibrant and impassioned ballet was a hit. MacMillan’s “Manon”, one of my longtime favorite ballets, with a rapturous Massenet score, was danced by Hee Seo and Cory Stearns, both of ABT, in the requisite, poignant pas de deux. Then, to everyone’s delight, Olga Smirnova, of the Bolshoi, who had to cancel last year, due to foreign visa issues, took the stage with Kimin Kim, of the Mariinsky. Their Petipa, “Black Swan Pas de Deux”, from “Swan Lake”, was just as outstanding as this seasoned ballet audience craved. Ms. Smirnova created the devious Odile, who tricks Siegfried into a proposal. She was suitably seductive and speedy in her fouettés and footwork, teasing and tossing her head away from her partner’s advances. Mr. Kim leaped about in the renowned princely and propulsive choreography.

Tyler Donatelli, of Houston Ballet, danced a Stanton Welch solo, “A Time to Dance”, music by Dvořák. Like so many Houston Ballet artists, Mr. Donatelli is an artist to watch. Lucia Lacarra and Josue Ullate, of Victor Ullate Ballet, then danced Victor Ullate’s “Pas de Deux from Carmen”, music by Bizet. This is a stunning, sharp, sensuous dance, and the artists should return with their company for full ballets like this excerpt. Ekaterina Kondaurova and Konstantin Zverev, of the Mariinsky, performed Forsythe’s “In the Middle, Somewhat Elevated”, to Thom Willems’ score. Arms stretch into angular shapes, with the woman slicing the air with pointed muscular limbs. This stark ballet is always a crowd pleaser, often seen at galas, with its dynamic visual appeal. Olga Smirnova returned for the only ill-conceived ballet of the night, her own revised version of Fokine’s “The Dying Swan”, music by Saint-Saëns. She brought Calvin Royal out with her to produce contrasting, hyper-kinetic silly motion that reduced an iconic, melodramatic ballet, with sublime spirituality, into a farcical mime. The young pianist of tonight’s pre-show concert, played the accompaniment.

However, the next actual showstopper, always another gala delight, was David Parsons’ “Caught”, to Robert Fripp’s electronic score, and tonight the solo virtuoso was Zoey Anderson of Parsons Dance. With dance synchronized to a strobe light, hand-held by the dancer (I have seen this performed years ago by none other than Angel Corrella, ABT, and Linda Celeste Sims, Ailey), Ms. Anderson was superb, in gravity-defying leaps and jumps, about the stage, all “caught” in en air strobe friezes, giving the illusion that the dancer is actually in flight. Attitude, as well as athleticism, is tantamount. The finale, almost three hours in, was “Don Q Jubilee”, to Petipa’s original “Don Quixote”, music by Minkus. Six YAGP alumni, who had just performed, returned for this high-octane extravaganza, in spins, fouettés, jumps, lifts, leaps, flirtations, tosses, and more.

Kudos to the Stars of Tomorrow and the Stars of Today, and kudos to YAGP.

JYAGP 2019 Finalists
in "Grand Defilé"
Choreography: Carlos Dos Santos, Jr.
YAGP by VAM Productions

Thomas Forster &
Christine Shevchenko
in "Porte Rouge"
Choreography: Melanie Hamrick
YAGP by VAM Productions

Calvin Royal III, Herman Cornejo (ABT),
Danny Ulbricht (NYCB), Sung Woo Han (ABT)
in "Porte Rouge"
Choreography: Melanie Hamrick
YAGP by VAM Productions

Indiana Woodward & Taylor Stanley, NYCB
in "Tarantella Pas de Deux"
Choreography: George Balanchine
YAGP by VAM Productions

Hee Seo & Cory Stearns (ABT)
in Act I Pas de Deux, "Manon"
Choreography: Sir Kenneth MacMillan
YAGP by VAM Productions

Olga Smirnova, Bolshoi
& Calvin Royal III, ABT
in "Dying Swan"
Choreography: Mikhail Fokine
YAGP by VAM Productions

Skylar Brandt, ABT
in "Don Q Jubilee"
Choreography: Marius Petipa
YAGP by VAM Productions

Kimin Kim & Isabella Boylston
in "Don Q Jubilee"
Choreography: Marius Petipa
YAGP by VAM Productions

For more information, contact Dr. Roberta E. Zlokower at